With a nod to Israel’s increasingly normalized relations with the Arab world, the Pentagon is reorganizing its global command structure to include the Jewish state in the military field run by the US Central Command, which includes other countries in the Middle East.
The move will allow for greater cooperation against Iran, Israel’s main regional enemy, the United States and some Arab countries.
Israel has been in the European Command for decades because of its generally hostile relations with many Arab countries, a situation that is considered difficult for the Central Command (CENTCOM) to do business with both Israel and the Arab world.
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The area of responsibility of the Central Command extends across the Middle East to Central Asia, including the Persian Gulf region, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
US President Donald Trump ordered the shift earlier this week following lobbying by several pro-Israel groups in Washington, and the Pentagon announced this on Friday.
Defense Secretary Benny Gantz praised the move and pointed out that it was the result of his ministry’s discussions with the Pentagon.
“It is gratifying that following weeks of dialogue between our Defense Ministries, including with former Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Asper and Joint Chief of Staff Major General Mark Millie, the Pentagon has handed over the military review of Israel to Central Command including other Middle Eastern countries.” Gantz said in a statement.
“This change will further encourage cooperation between the IDF and the US Armed Forces in tackling regional challenges, along with other members with whom we share interests,” he said.
Although in part a symbolic move, including Israel at CENTCOM, is expected to improve direct communication between Israel’s defense forces and US forces in the region, and through the US, other armies in the region. The move does not reflect changes in US base in the Middle East or Europe .
The previous arrangement allowed Israel to work closely with European members in the Organization of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) under European command but limited the interaction between the Israeli army and the Arab armies under Central Command.
“Israel is a leading strategic partner for the United States, and this will open up further opportunities for cooperation with our US Central Command partners while maintaining strong cooperation between Israel and our European allies,” the Pentagon said. “We build boundaries to best mitigate risk and protect the interests and partners in the United States.”
“now, [Central Command chief] “General Frank McKenzie can travel to Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Israel and visit everyone in his new community,” an American source told the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story.
Even before the change, Mackenzie managed to visit Israel and did so in November 2019, as did his predecessor, Major General Joseph Vottel, who visited in April of that year. This visit by Vettel was the first trip to Israel by the head of the Santcom Center.
The Pentagon said US-mediated normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, known as the Abrahamic Agreements, were a factor in the decision. After signing the agreements in September, Israel reached further normalization deals with Sudan and Morocco, including US-brokered ones.
“The easing of tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors following the Abrahamic Agreements has provided a strategic opportunity for the United States to align key partners against common threats in the Middle East,” the Pentagon said.
This was a reference to Iran, the United States, Israel and some Arab countries, including the leading Saudi Arabia, see it as the leading security threat in the region.
The head of the pro-Israel group, which sought to transfer Israel to CENTCOM, the Jewish Institute for National Security in America, said the reorganization would indeed strengthen cooperation between the countries in the region.
“For several months, JINSA has claimed that the allocation of Israel to Santcom [area of operation] Represents the logical next step following the breakthrough of the Abrahamic Agreements. It will strengthen strategic planning, security cooperation and deterrence against Iran from America and its regional allies, “said Michael Makowski, President and CEO of JINSA.
The change in command structure could complicate Central Command cooperation with Iranian allies like Iraq, where the U.S. retains 2,500 troops.
One retired general who spoke to the Wall Street Journal applauded the move but warned he would add to the burden the Central Command, which already has responsibility for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Trump made the decision in the low days of his presidency, so the Biden administration will remain to implement it. The move was the latest in a series of steps by the now two-time Republican president aimed at shaping his successor’s policy toward Iran.
The Trump administration has taken a confrontational approach in Tehran, including by withdrawing from the nuclear deal in 2015, imposing paralyzing sanctions on Iran and assassinating Qassem Suleimani last year.
Biden is expected to take a more conciliatory approach, saying that if Tehran returns to the terms of the nuclear deal, it will also rejoin and remove the crushing economic sanctions that have wreaked havoc on Iran’s economy over the past two years.